Shrimp flavor or grilled flavor? Researchers recreate meat flavors by cooking insects

Pour the mealworms into a frying pan, add a pinch of sugar, sear for 5 minutes over high heat… An Asian cooking recipe? In reality, it is a scientific experiment that is anything but anecdotal.

A team of Korean researchers tried to cook beetle larvae to identify all the aromas produced – knowing that with this basic ingredient, the range of possibilities is almost infinite: cooking method (hot plate, frying, boiling point of water), temperature, etc. .

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The scientists revealed the results of their work at the fall conference of the American Chemical Society, a learned society.

According to their experiments, the types of molecules at the base of odors and flavors – or “aromatic compounds” – remain the same throughout the insect’s life cycle, from the egg to the adult stage, via the larva”) and even the chrysalis.

Sweet corn aroma, shrimp…

And in the kitchen? While steamed mealworms develop sweet corn flavors, roasted or fried insects are closer to shrimp, the researchers explain. In question, the aromatic compounds – pyrazines, alcohols and aldehydes – resulting from these last two cooking methods, similar to those formed during the preparation of meat and seafood.

But the most interesting results were obtained by cooking mealworms with sugar. In fact, proteins, fatty acids, water and sugar interact in at least four ways: caramelization, oxidation, the Maillard reaction, and the Strecker reaction – named after the famous chemists who discovered these processes, respectively, in the 20th century.

However, these transformations – which we experience every day in our kitchen without knowing it – give rise to an infinity of aromatic compounds, associated with so many flavors. Among the hundreds of scents obtained, the researchers selected a dozen – after having them smelled by volunteers who had to indicate which evoked the most meat for them.

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The stakes of this “culinary” research are considerable. While the demand for meat is exploding in countries like China and India, and the human population is expected to approach 10 billion people by 2050, according to UN projections, the area dedicated to pastures and animal feed already represents 80% of the land. arables on the planet. our planet – and this at the expense of rampant deforestation, especially in the Amazon.

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Insects are a healthy and nutritious food source with high amounts of high quality meat-like fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein.“, says In Hee Cho, a researcher at Wonkwang University (South Korea), who led the research, in a press release.

According to the Korean team, offering insects in the form of “meat-flavored” seasonings instead of the original form would make it possible to overcome the disgust inspired by the Western population for this consumption, which, however, is widespread in Africa and Asia continents.

Eating Insects: Beware fake news

Recently, an infox circulated widely on English and then French-language social media alleging that consuming insects would be harmful to humans, as well as all mammals, because of two compounds they contain: chitin – a carbohydrate that our body would be unable to digest it – and ecdysterone, a hormone.

Misleading statements, according to experts heard by the checking the facts from Agence France Presse (AFP). In fact, most of our foods contain natural hormones, including meat and dairy, so insects are no exception.

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Regarding chitin, it should be noted that even molecules that cannot be assimilated by our digestive system, such as the fibers present in plants, can play a beneficial role in our transit.

In addition, many mammals consume insects; this is particularly the case for armadillos, anteaters and shrews, but also for many apes – including our closest cousin, the chimpanzee.

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